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Rejected by the toy field at 1st, Barbie is now one of America’s most reliable manufacturers. “She” – the 11.5 inch blonde doll, but also her manufacturer persona – generated all over the world revenue of around US$1.5 billion (£1.3 billion) in 2022, and has a model value of US$590 million.

Barbie debuted on March 9 1959 at the New York Global Toy Honest as Barbie Teenage Vogue Product. Sixty-4 years afterwards, the doll continues to be the issue of cultural, sociological and psychological interest. By producing an iconic brand name with specific which means for supporters of all ages (Barbie is promoted to children aged three and more mature), toy corporation Mattel has properly prolonged the lifecycle of the Barbie model for perfectly in excess of fifty percent a century.

Barbie is also a polarising figure. The brand embodies the idea of a “double bind”, celebrated as an inspirational role design even though at the same time blamed for generating unrealistic expectations of girls, significantly when it arrives to how they should really seem.

But although most toys stay common for only two or three decades, Barbie’s very long-phrase success displays Mattel’s responsiveness and adaptability to the transforming cultural and political discourse in society and all around this doll. So how has the company accomplished it?

Black and white photo of Ruth Handler, Barbie inventor, standing behind a display of male and female dolls.
Ruth Handler, the creator of Barbie.
Everett Assortment Inc/Alamy Stock Picture

A Barbie girl, in a Barbie environment

Research shows there are lots of methods to establish and maintain manufacturer people, but Mattel has utilized a “multiply” system for Barbie. This has involved introducing other characters that engage in supporting roles in Barbie’s “world”.

Above the years, these supporting acts ended up introduced to portray Barbie’s romantic relationship with good friends and spouse and children. 1st there was Ken (1961), Barbie’s boyfriend, then her young sister Skipper (1964), adopted by close friends including Midge (1963) and Christie (1968), the 1st black Barbie character.

The storylines and person traits of these more figures connect to Barbie’s persona and improve brand name visibility. Mattel has also utilised storytelling techniques such as asserting that Barbie and Ken experienced officially damaged up on Valentine’s Day in 2004 (they obtained back again jointly in 2011). This kind of stories resonate with fans’ feelings, sustaining curiosity in the brand name.

These tactics normally operate for a though, but how has Mattel sustained true brand name longevity for this extensive? There are many tactics built to revitalise mature makes. Mattel properly extended Barbie’s brand name to capture new audiences, travel advancement and broaden into new forms of products outside of dolls.

This is a risky endeavour if the brand is stretched way too much. But Barbie’s model has been correctly prolonged into other financially rewarding classes this sort of as clothes, equipment, cosmetics and entertainment (music, movies and video games). And now, after a number of computer system-animated, direct-to-online video and streaming tv movies, Barbie’s to start with major spending plan, reside motion film will be unveiled in cinemas in July 2023.

Early reports propose the movie – helmed by Oscar-nominee Greta Gerwig, who also directed Minor Ladies (2019) and Girl Hen (2017) – is most likely to be rated PG-13. This is not the “universal” rating you could hope for a movie about a well known toy. It hints at yet another strand of Mattel’s prosperous Barbie branding technique: nostalgia.

Existence in plastic, it is excellent

Together with ongoing attempts to enchantment to youthful ladies, Mattel also intentionally targets older shoppers. Precise objects – not just toys but clothes, food these types of as sweets, or even merchandise like vinyl data – can give a physical kind to a established of attitudes, relationships and conditions for individuals. This evokes a highly effective feeling of the past.

This sort of nostalgia generates trust and good attitudes in the direction of a brand, influencing buyer preferences when it arrives to deciding upon between toys.

In addition to the forthcoming movie, Mattel has attempted to capitalise on the nostalgia Barbie evokes in other strategies. It sells a lot more complex designer and minimal edition traces of collectible dolls aimed at adult fans, for illustration. These goods are usually sold in speciality or boutique outlets, and carry bigger value tags than the ordinary doll.

New York City, New York/ USA - February 16, 2019: Toy Fair New York Barbie signage at the Jacob Javits Center
A Barbie banner at the 2019 New York Toy Honest.
Sean P. Aune/Shutterstock

Criticism of Barbie

As Barbie’s manufacturer has expanded and progressed, the doll has also encountered criticism. More than the yrs, Barbie went through lots of transformations to search far more confident, and was marketed as having several lifetime choices, notably when it comes to do the job. There are now Barbie dolls symbolizing additional than 200 professions – from astronaut, surgeon, paratrooper, sport developer, architect and entrepreneur to film director and even US president.

But critics have argued that these career dolls are a “misfire endeavor at inspiring women”. This negative notion of the brand’s ethical vision is joined to the notion that Barbie is rooted in an suitable of femininity that even now characterises girls by their bodily visual appeal.

Barbie has been accused of selling unrealistic physique benchmarks, stereotyping and objectification of females, as effectively as obtaining a unfavorable affect on girls’ self-esteem and human body image.

Toy Fair New York, Mattel Barbie dolls on display, New York City, February 24, 2020.
Mattel has attempted to deal with criticism of Barbie more than the decades, for instance by offering individuals a number of job solutions to select from.
Sean P. Aune/Shutterstock

So, confronted with declining revenue and competitors from smaller sized models presenting dolls with extra practical body kinds (this kind of as Lottie and Lammily), Mattel introduced “Task Dawn” in 2016. This integrated the start of Fashionistas, a line of Barbie dolls with diverse body styles (curvy, petite and tall) and qualities, skin tones and eye colours, as effectively as hairstyles and outfits.

But research advised that young ladies aged between a few and 10 prefered the initial tall and petite dolls. They ended up detrimental about “curvy” Barbie, and this doll also been given rigorous general public scrutiny.

In 2017, Mattel took a further substantial step by introducing ethnically and racially assorted dolls of distinctive nationalities, which include the first hijab-carrying Barbie doll. On the other hand, this tactic prompted criticism that Mattel was dealing with race and ethnic differences as “collectible”, and commodifying society.

Irrespective of this, Barbie carries on to be a toy that several kids participate in with. The longevity and iconic status of the doll is a tribute to Mattel’s astute promoting and reinvention endeavours. These have assisted the model continue being applicable even now, 64 several years after it was launched.